by JAKE NUTTING
For the first time since 2013, the Tampa Bay Rowdies will host a U.S. Open Cup match at Al Lang Stadium. The last time they did so was in the memorable match in which they dispatched the perennial Open Cup favorites, Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders, 1-0 in front of a crowd of 4,000. This Wednesday, though, they’ll be facing off with United League Soccer side FC Cincinnati.
June 1, Al Lang Stadium. Kickoff at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV/Streaming: Free stream on the Rowdies youtube page.
Tickets: Tickets are already mostly gone. Pay attention to Rowdies social media to know when/if limited quantities become available.
FC Cincinnati Quick Facts
USL Record: 6W-2D-2L
Goals For: 16 (tied with two others for fourth in USL)
Goals Against: 10 (tied with two others for eighth fewest in USL)
Away Record: 3W-1D-1L
Last Five Results: W 2-0 (Harrisburg City Islanders, 5/28), W 1-0 Pittsburgh Riverhounds, 5/14), D 1-1 (at Harrisburg, 5/07), W 3-1 (at Orlando City B, 5/04), D 1-1 (Wilmington Hammerheads, 4/30)
How they got here: FC Cincinnati knocked off the Indiana Fire of the NPSL by a score of 2-1 on May 18 in their first match of the competition. Former San Antonio Scorpions and longtime MLS forward Omar Cummings notched the opening goal through a penalty and Jimmy McLaughlin sealed with another in the second half.
Considering this is their first season in existence, Cincinnati is off to a remarkable start in league play. Through ten matches played, they currently sit third in the USL’s Eastern Conference and are tied with another team for fourth overall in the league.
Lead by former U.S. national team midfielder John Harkes (who was at one time rumored to be circling the head coaching job of the NASL expansion team in Northern Virginia that never got off the ground), Cincinnati has quickly earned a reputation for playing a fast and fluid brand of soccer.
Harkes typically employs a 4-3-3 formation, but the team came out with a 4-2-3-1 formation in Sunday’s win over Harrisburg. Former Seattle Sounders and New England Revolution forward Sean Okoli leads the team with four goals, although there was a long stretch between his last two. His most recent was a penalty conversion in the 89th minute this past Sunday, and the one prior to that came back on May 4.
Cincinnati certainly doesn’t seem to rely too heavily on Okoli, as eight other players on the roster have registered at least one goal for the team so far.
Two players familiar to the NASL and the Rowdies have also become regular contributors on Cincinnati’s inaugural roster. Ex-Ottawa Fury FC attacker Andrew Wiedeman and former Minnesota Unied keeper Mitch Hildebrandt have both suited up for every one of Cincinnati’s league matches. With three goals under his belt, Wiedeman is already one shy of equaling his total from last year in Ottawa.
In two months with Cincinnati, Hildebrandt has come two thirds of the way to matching his entire number of appearances in four seasons with Minnesota. He’s looked solid in his first steady starting job, sitting fifth in the league with 31 saves. Cincinnati has only managed to record two clean sheets (compared to four for the Rowdies), but both of those results came in their last two outings.
“I’m playing my strongest team available,” said Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell. “I’ve got to make maybe three or four changes, one obviously Zac Portillos. He’s obviously injured. And then I’ve got a couple other guys that aren’t quite fit enough to play tomorrow, but I’m optimistic that they’ll be fit for [Saturday’s league match]. So it’ll be a few changes, but only ones that are forced.”
Forward Tommy Heinemann is one of those players with questionable status. After missing his first match of the year last week, Heinemann remains a gametime decision for Wednesday’s match.
“They’re a good team,” Campbell said of Cincinnati. “They could easily hold their own in the NASL. Plus they’re winning at the moment, so they’ve got the winning mentality as well. They’re going to come to Tampa Bay with nothing to lose and everything to gain. The only reason they may be an underdog is because we play in a higher league, so that makes them a dangerous opponent for us. It’s a cup game, so they’re going to have a real go at us. It’s going to take our very best to go out and get a win.”